Santa Barbara – ‘Europe’ in California

Santa Barbara architecture“We decided not to go to Europe this year but come to Santa Barbara instead” Oucch! Just the type of comment that the cynical Brit loves to exploit when grumbling about their maybe somewhat less travelled American cousins……………. State Street, Santa BarbaraBut having spent a delightful evening meandering the streets of Santa Barbara, striking architecture everywhere you look, people spilling Santa Barbara arcadeonto the sidewalks, music filling the air, life still vibrant even after 11pm, I think perhaps that comment can be forgiven, for Santa Barbara truly has an authentic European ambience.

Santa Barbara MissionEven the history is respectfully old. The stunning Santa Barbara Mission, often aptly called the ‘Queen of the Missions’ was founded on the feast of St Barbara, December 4th 1786. It was the tenth of the 21 Californian Missions established by the Spanish Franciscans. Padre Juniper Serra who established 9 of the missions, envisaged its building but sadly died before work commenced. His successor Padre Fermin Francisco de Lasuen, raised the cross here and placed Padre Antonio Paterna, a companion of Serra, in charge. The Mission’s original purpose was to bring Christianity to the local Chumash Indians, the original inhabitants of the coastline from Malibu to San Luis Obispo. The Chumash were hunters and gatherers oriented to the sea, their manufacturing abilities were regarded highly by early explorers and their skilled handiwork greatly contributed to the Mission’s success. Over the years the Mission has been used for schooling, as a seminary and as a base for Friar’s work in various apostolates in the western states. The Mission church today is used by the Parish of St. Barbara.

Courtyard in Santa Barbara

The first time I was charmed by Santa Barbara, nearly 30 years ago, I remember my very first impression was that it did indeed feel like being in Europe.  A charming, beautiful, small town, stretching along a main street, reminiscent of places I had visited far away. I fell in love with it then and it’s appeal has never faded. Flowers in Santa BarbaraSo hey, why not experience ‘Europe in California’, without the cost of the plane ticket and even better no jet lag, the bane of my life!!

Windmill in SolvangA short drive away there one can be forgiven for thinking you are in Denmark, the somewhat Disney style ‘charms’ of Solvang await you! Despite it’s somewhat gauche appearance, Solvang is genuinelySolvang, California Danish and was actually settled by a group of Danes in 1911, wishing to escape the harsh midwestern winters. Its architecture is traditional Danish in style and there is both a copy of Copenhagen’s famous Little Mermaid Statue and a bust of Hans Christian Anderson, the author of so many beloved children’s stories

Driving to Santa Ynez Valley from Santa BarbaraThe journey to get to Solvang, through the Santa Ynez Valley, rivals many I have done on the other side of the ‘Pond’. As you climb the twisting curves up into the hills, the breathtaking, sweeping views across the ocean and over lush vineyards provide a true cornice Riviera experience. And what could be more delightful after your 30 minute ‘Grace Kelley, scarf blowing in the wind experience’ than then beguiling small Los Olivos, Santa Ynez Valleytown of Los Olivos. Straight out of an American picture book! Quite entrancing with its numerous vintners offering Los Olivos, Santa Ynez Valleyyou generous samples from their local vines, gorgeous little gift stores selling a multitude of tasteful temptations, scrumptious restaurants enticing places to stay…ohh for more time to meander!Los Olivos, Santa Ynez Valley